Just under 2 years ago, we set ourselves a goal that many people thought was unobtainable, unreachable, impossible. We wanted to take on what is widely regarded as the toughest challenge on Earth, with no prior experience or skill-set in the discipline. We wanted to take on the Atlantic Ocean, unsupported, in a rowing boat.
The voyage would span 3000 miles from The Canary Islands off the coast of Africa, to the Caribbean Island of Barbados. Along the way we would encounter sharks, whales, a near miss with a tanker and the first hurricane to form in the Atlantic for 50 years. Our relationship as friends would be tested to its limits, as well as our nerve and physical strength. It is not uncommon for people to aspire to these great challenges, but the logistics, finances and sheer workload of completing them often presents a hurdle that is easy to trip on.
We wanted to share how we approached this mammoth endeavour, and what we learnt along the way in becoming transatlantic rowers.
The one thing we never lacked from day 1 was confidence, even though neither of us had any experience rowing or sailing, we didn’t doubt ourselves for a second. Family, friends and colleagues initially laughed off the idea without a second thought, it was a moon-shot concept with no real conviction. Little did they know we weren’t viewing this as an idea, to us, this was happening. There were a number of moments along the way to the start-line where we could have quite easily pulled out and made valid excuses for doing so. Our original boat didn’t get made in time, so we used a 10 year old model instead. Relatively severe injuries were sustained, preventing proper training for up to 6 months, and the thousands of ‘NO’ emails for sponsorship would deter the majority of people. But instead of using one of these excuses, we projected a picture of calm and confidence, and never let these set-backs hinder our determination and belief.
Over the coming 12 months, we sent thousands of emails, had hundreds of calls and basically ran a small start-up alongside our regular jobs. Like many adventures, the feat itself is sometimes eclipsed by the finances involved, and the row was no-exception. A boat, equipment, logistics and training, costs money, and lots of it. Professionally, we are both marketers, so we had a good idea of how to best approach brands and position The Tempest Two as a marketable asset. Looking back, this was such an important element of our success. If you are planning on raising money via sponsorship, then make yourself as appealing as possible by investing in things such as photo/videography, a decent website and create a brand around yourself.
The question we most get asked about the row, is ‘How did you train?’. We were lucky to have the support of Caveman Conditioning, who put a specific plan together for us to achieve the necessary level of fitness in order to complete the punishing regime at sea. We worked on strength, flexibility and cardio in equal amounts, but outside the gym we had the important task of learning to row. Neither of us had ever held an oar, so getting to grips with an alien sport was a big challenge. We spent as much time on our boat as possible, but didn’t get access to her until 6 months from the start. We managed a total of 5 training rows before setting off on the Atlantic, so had to learn the trade on the high-seas, and what a humbling experience it was.
Given that neither of us had any knowledge of seamanship, we spoke to as many people as possible who could shed light on what we would face out there. The group of trans-atlantic rowers is about as elite as it gets, with only around 260 boats making the crossing. We luckily however managed to spend time with some very competent ocean rowers, and racked their brains for the ins-and-outs of what it takes to succeed. This gave us an important insight and allowed us to prepare mentally for what lay ahead. Also, priceless bits of information were gained, such as using sheepskin on our rowing seats to help with salt-sores, packing the correct food, how to wash effectively and the best ways to keep the boat clean, lean and moving fast. These nuggets were invaluable, and gave us a head-start before we even reached The Canaries.
As we arrived into The Canary Islands, we were soon made aware that the weather in the Atlantic was not playing by the rules. We were due to set off on the 9th December, but this was made impossible by harsh Southerly winds (blowing from the South to the North) which prevented us passing South down the coast of Africa. These winds blew hard for an entire week, which the locals said was something that they had never experienced before during the winter months. After 2 weeks being stuck in the small coastal town of Puerto Mogan, we decided to push off in variable weather, throwing caution to the wind and going for it.
All the emails, phone conversations, books and sleepless nights suddenly faded into the background, this was the moment we had been working towards for 18 months, we were taking on the Atlantic, and we were alone.